Norwalk church goers stand for justice in rally

NORWALK, Conn. – Tired, frustrated, discouraged, divided – those are the words used to describe the mood of the community in Norwalk by four of the people who took time Sunday morning to “Stand for Justice” on the steps of a church, singing to the passersby and holding signs.

“The Lord loves justice,” the Rev. Frank Newsome said to the flock inside the First Congregational Church on the Green before leading people outside. “So the question is, will we stand for justice for our brothers and sisters? Will we stand for justice in our community and the country? Because our world, our world, is waiting for the church to wake up and be witnesses to the light. We need to talk to one another. We need to get to know one another.”

The chorus began with “We Shall Overcome” and progressed to chanting, “What do we want/ justice” before erupting into brief laughter when a passing car honked. “If I Had a Hammer” followed, and the vocalizations progressed to Hebrew, as the Rabbi Ron Fish led a chant and then humorously suggested that the Christians hum along with his brief song.

“How good and pleasant it is when brothers and our sisters, people of different races and religions and backgrounds, people of different faith communities can all come together and dwell together in peace,” Fish said.

Afterward, asked to describe the mood of the community, Fish said it’s the same nationwide – discouragement.

“We seem to be addressing the same issues so many times, all over again,” he said. “You think you make progress, you look at the world and you realize there’s a lot of work. My prayer is that we persevere, keep singing the old songs and keep marching to the drummer beat that is the rhythm of justice is calling us. We can do better.  I am discouraged by the sense that the community is divided between those who have access to justice and those that don’t. I think we’re making progress. I think there’s a tremendous amount of work yet to be done.”

Lisa Butler said standing for justice was a matter of peace and joy for her, as she loves life after having a liver transplant. But she had one word for the mood of the community: “tired.”

“We need more love, we need more parity, guidance for our young people,” she said.

Gregory Thornewell was more verbal about his thoughts, saying “frustration” is in the air.

“There’s so many inconsistencies, double standards being applied that the community is starting to lose trust and faith in the leadership of the community. The only viable answer is we’re going to have to be fair, we’re going to have to be consistent, and we’re going to have to be sensitive, culturally sensitive, to a very diverse group of people,” he said.

Thornewell said he’s not sure that law enforcement has had enough training.

Rose Hawkins, bottom right,
Rose Hawkins, bottom right, and Gregory Thornewell, upper left, stand for justice Sunday on the steps of the First Congregational Church on the Green in Norwalk.

“I am frustrated over Ferguson. I am frustrated over ‘I can’t breathe.’ What’s next? It just seems as though all you have to do is come out with a white shirt and a tie and say, ‘we’re working on it.’ Then it’s forgotten, it’s alright. It happens again and again and again,” he said.

Law officers should be accountable to the law, too, he said.

“We have to find a way to make these police officers very accountable because you have many of them who are not enforcing the law, they are enforcing their own beliefs, their own stereotypes and their own prejudices,” Thornewell said. “That has to stop. If this is going to continue there’s going to be an eruption. A social eruption and I don’t want that to happen but how much can you take? Everybody us contracting and contracting from the pressure and sooner or later it’s going to explode.”

Asked if that was local, Thornewell said yes.  Officers who were hired to keep the peace are doing the opposite. There needs to be better background checks and psychological testing, he said.

“There’s something generating the belief that ‘because I have a gun and a badge I’m better than you. I’m better than you and I’m in control of you.’ That’s not what that badge and gun was designed to do. It’s designed, I believe, to serve and protect. … You’ve got too many law enforcement officers out there that shouldn’t be out there. Just like we have too many civilians out here on the street corners doing wrong things and they shouldn’t be out there. We have too many police officers that should never, ever have been given the power to arrest.”

Nate Yordan had a different perspective about Norwalk’s mood.

“It’s a little too divisive, actually. People are sniping at each other too much. … I think it’s worse than it’s has been. Part of that is online stuff, where everybody can snipe at each other online, rather than talking to each other,” he said.

Newsome and Fish said the demonstration was a “warm up” for a large interfaith gathering planned for 5 p.m. Sunday on the town green. Fish won’t be there as it’s Chanukah, hence his presence at the First Congregational Church.

A lot of the African-American churches and the Al Madany Islamic Center are participating in Sunday’s demonstration, he said.

“I am part of the interfaith clergy and that’s what led to the vigil,” Newsome said. “We’re trying to build some bridges between the white churches and the African-American churches. I think that will be the best thing of the candlelight vigil Sunday.”

Holding a sign and singing has been a decades-long activity for Rose Hawkins, she said. “I was around in the ’60’s when we were fighting for a different kind of justice at that time,” she said.

Hawkins, a Bridgeport resident, said she was known as Rose Riley when she was a Norwalk Common Councilwoman on and off between 1975 and 1994. Her sign was small, but very personal, she said. “Justice for all, and we mean all,” it read.

“I want everybody out there to know that even though it’s a small sign, my face for justice is huge. It’s huge. It extends from the ’60’s to the 2014’s. That’s a lot of years. That’s a lot of years. I’m hoping that as I get older that I will be able to leave a better world, especially when it comes to justice for all, for everyone,” she said. “… It’s a long span, come a long way. We made baby steps. I am really worried about it taking a back step in light of especially with what’s happening.”


18 responses to “Norwalk church goers stand for justice in rally”

  1. Norewalk Lifer

    Okay, let’s hear all the negative comments about people of all stripes coming together for tolerance, and “mutual respect and dignity”, Joe DeVito instituted that saying in the Norwalk Public School Systems a long time ago, too bad that it was a just a saying on a chalkboard.

    Norwalk Lifer

  2. Mike Mushak

    AMEN! Great video. Thanks for posting, Nancy on Norwalk!

  3. EveT

    There needs to be a balance between (a) police expertise in enforcing laws and ensuring public safety and (b) police expertise in de-escalating confrontations with lawbreakers.
    Does the justice system need to improvement so that laws apply equally to everyone? Certainly. Should we condemn police for doing their job? No.

  4. Oldtimer

    Actually they are not demonstrating for anything different than they were demonstrating for in the sixties. The goal then was equal treatment and opportunity for all and that is still the goal. Some recent events have convinced a lot of people there is still a long way to go. Media coverage of certain recent events resulting in the death of some people during interaction with the police and no indictment of the officers afterward reminded a lot of people of the worst of the civil rights movement when the police in some places were on the side of maintaining the status quo and abused a lot of people seeking equal treatment and opportunity.

    It is unfortunate the incidents happened, but the media coverage has exacerbated the problem by building up unrealistic expectations. When grand juries examined all the evidence and determined indictment of the involved police officers was not justified, a lot of people felt cheated because the media had led them to believe indictment was justified when in fact it was not.

  5. Piberman

    More involved vigorous participation in civic affairs by all our citizens is likest the surest path to a “just society”.

  6. Ryan

    Mike Brown’s hands were never up, he attacked a police officer and paid for it.
    Eric Garner was yelling I can”t breath…guess what? If you can yell, you can breath.
    The moral in both these cases as sad as it simply put is,both people resisted arrest and both paid dearly.
    Now the rest of us have to listen to how bad the cops are, and how unjust the system is.
    Give it a rest already.

  7. Mike Mushak

    OldTimer, read this. It may make you think differently about the Ferguson grand jury, which actually broke all the rules for grand jury conduct as spelled out by the Supreme Court (written by Justice Scalia, interestingly enough)


    And read this, from the Wall Street Journal, that explains how blacks get sentences that are 20% more harsh than whites for the very same crimes (oh, that darn media again):


    And don’t forget Eric Garner, who died slowly in front of NYPD cops who joked and tweeted while the man they just put into an illegal choke hold and wrestled to the ground for selling some illegal cigarettes lie there gasping for air dying slowly right in front of them. They could have easily saved his life. He left a wife and kids and an entire country who cant figure out why it happened. Imagine if you knew Eric Garner, and he was your father/brother/son/husband/friend. Would you just accept what happened? That’s why conservatives and liberals across the country reacted so strongly to that case. Just watch the video, including the long horrifying part when the cops are just standing around as he dies slowly.

    We are better than this as a country and as a society. Thats why millions are marching. You can blame the “media” all you want but these are real lives and families we are talking about, every day, for years and decades. Folks have had enough.

  8. Donald Trump

    God helps those that help themselves.

    Justice isn’t handouts and get out of jail free cards.

    Taking from makers and giving to takers isn’t justice either and actually does more damage to the takers who never get ahead and get duped by politicians into thinking they aren’t getting a fair shake in life.

  9. WOW just WOW

    You say
    Should we condemn police for doing their job?
    The answer is a big YES when they are doing it WRONG as in the recent cases of police killing unarmed individuals..

    You say
    Mike Brown’s hands were never up, he attacked a police officer

    My question is were you there or are you just repeating the right wing racist hate?

    Also as far as your comment of “Eric Garner was yelling I can”t breath…guess what? If you can yell, you can breath”

    That is 100 percent wrong as someone can have different levels of struggling to breath.

    My question to you on this is are you just repeating the right wing racist hate or the propaganda put out by the police?

  10. Notaffiliated

    Mike M – the links are good but to claim that the media has no hand in this is silly. Also, not sure what channel you listen to (I can guess), but did you see the chanting last night in NYC?

    “What do we want?”
    “Kill the cops!”
    “When do we want it?”

    Yes, we can do much better as a society and I HOPE, you weren’t marching and chanting that.


  11. EveT

    I was not present at either incident, and neither was anyone else commenting here, AFAIK.
    The point I wanted to make is that police officers have to make split-second decisions about whether a suspect poses a threat. People break the law, and when they do they need to be apprehended. We pay police to ensure public safety and deter crime. We can’t expect police to do that if they are going to be pilloried every time an officer makes a decision that may turn out to be inaccurate.
    We pay taxes for a justice system that is supposed to let every accused person have their day in court. I am puzzled about the grand juries in Missouri and New York and disappointed that the recent cases didn’t result in indictments so there could be a trial and all the facts could come out.
    But I don’t think that justifies rioting, destroying property, blocking highways, or calling police officers murderers, among other names they have been called lately.

  12. Notaffiliated

    I guess none of us were there. To suggest that both the Brown situation and Garner situation are the same and that other posters are repeating white racism is silly.

    We should all be skeptical of the media — in an ideal world would could all see the deliberations of the grand jury and hear the eye witness accounts.

    I have to say, the Brown case and Garner case are VERY MUCH two different situations.

    If you want to see if you’re a racist, I know a great neighborhood in Detroit to drop you on the street. Get back to us (if you can) on your level of racism

  13. Norewalk Lifer

    Makers and takers? a little too much “Ain’t it Grand Ayn Randian” cocktails for my taste tonight!

    Norwalk Lifer

  14. WOW just WOW

    Eve T
    You state
    People break the law, and when they do they need to be apprehended.

    The one thing you seem to leave out of you posts is that police also break the law, as we have seen so often. They also should be held accountable. You seem to have a view of police that they are on some higher pillar than the rest of us.. Real world most police these days are not good people. They are not in it to serve and protect. They are in it for the money 200 thousand plus at times. They are also in it for the power trip. If you would like proof of what I am saying do a search for police abuse on Youtube. You will find thousands and thousands of videos that support what I am saying. We have even had several cases of police abuse right here in Norwalk that have gone unpunished.

    I will not even comment on your post as it is not worth my bandwidth

  15. Oldtimer

    Mike Mushak
    I had already read both of the stories you linked, but thanks for sending them. I probably understand more about the grand jury process than you imagine, and the prosecutor in Ferguson did NOT break any Missouri state law or rules. Most grand juries in NY, where they are still widely used, are fed a very limited, one sided version of the facts in an effort to convince them to issue an indictment, and it usually works. This is where we get the expression about “indicting a ham sandwich”. Too many of those indictments lead to a not guilty finding from a jury that hears/sees all the evidence and are not fair to the person indicted. In this case, a prosecutor gave them everything he had, everything he would have to present to a jury, if there was a trial. The only thing the grand jury didn’t get was a defense lawyer’s arguments. This process follows that state’s law where grand juries are very unusual and the decision to ask for an arrest warrant is usually left to the police and the prosecutors. Think about it, when was the last time you heard about a state grand jury hearing a case in CT ? Occasionally, there are federal grand juries in CT, but rarely state grand juries.
    The media, looking for a big story and operating with a lot less backup than they used to have, led nationwide audiences to believe a quick indictment was inevitable in what they were incorrectly calling murder before the body was cold. Grand juries don’t work that way, they take evidence, evaluate it, take instruction on the applicable law, deliberate, and issue the best decision they can.

    Having said all this, it is a terrible thing this young man was shot and killed by a police officer and nobody is saying the officer should get an award, but, under the law, that officer, and any citizen, is justified in using deadly force anytime he REASONABLY believes his life is in danger.
    That same law applies to you, Mike. You really think it should be changed ? As far as the statistics on how minorities fare in courts, nationwide, they are nothing to be proud of, but resources (money) are a much bigger factor than race in those statistics, in my opinion. Very few can afford to hire the best defense lawyers. A much larger percentage of the rest of us can afford good, if not the best, lawyers. If you don’t think the lawyer you can hire makes a tremendous difference, you have not spent much time in court. You must have missed the OJ Simpson trial.

  16. Oldtimer

    The NY case where a big man with numerous medical problems made the decision this was the time in his life to put up a fight against a number of officers in which he was wrestled to the ground and one of the officers grabbed him around the neck in what has been called by many an “illegal choke hold”. If it was a choke hold he would not be able to talk, and he was clearly talking on the cell phone video. One of his medical problems was asthma and stress can bring on an asthma attack and provoke the “I can’t breath” complaints. I wasn’t there and can’t comment on what first aid treatment he did or did not get, but trying to indict one of the officers in that case, looking at all the factors, strikes me as a bit ridiculous. The grand jury, in a state that originated the “indict a ham sandwich” comment, apparently didn’t see reason to indict, either.

    Nobody wants to see people killed by the police, or even die in police custody, but it happens. Proving an officer had CRIMINAL intent to cause a death also happens, but it is, thankfully, very rare. When it happens, arrests are made, usually without waiting for a grand jury. Police react pretty fast in those cases.

    Our system is far from perfect, but we still have a big problem with people taking big risks to sneak in. A lot more needs to be done, both in police recruitment and training, and in educating people on obey the law and changing laws that need to be changed. Peaceful demonstration can be useful, inciting excited people to hurt, or kill, police officers will never bring good results.

  17. Ryan

    WJW are you repeating the left wing anti cop hate? The evidence supported Mike Brown assulating Officer Darren Wilson. What more do we need? Video? Please. Eric Garner had been arrested more than 30 times, nine for the same thing. Does that make his death justified? Absolutely not. All I’m saying is people like you are making this worse than it has to be. The police deal with the very worst of our society and sometimes things go wrong. Are there bad cops? yes. Are all cops bad? No.
    Give it a rest and lets move on.

  18. Scott

    In another forum I asked this question and the commenters found it convenient to not directly answer. So I will ask it here. It is a yes or no question. If officer Wilson had been wearing a lapel camera and the footage supported his testimony 100% would we still be having this conversation and the public demonstrations? I hope someone her has the intelligence to answer and support their answer with more than emotions.

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